Travel: iSimangaliso Wetland Wander, Northern KZN

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VIEWS

Words & Images Richard Van Ryneveld

I’d better get this out of the way from the start. You see, I am totally, irrevocably in love with the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in northern KZN. I have been for a long time. And I love Nissan Patrols − finish and klaar! So, forgive me if I seem completely biased in the tale which follows, which is mainly about swanning around the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in a Nissan Patrol GL.

I head up to Lake Sibaya on 4×4 tracks, and throw in a couple of sideshows – like the Ndumo Game Reserve and Tembe Elephant Park for good measure. But, first, a little ‘information overload’ to give you some hint of what lies ahead on this trip. This is a region of eight interlinking ecosystems, 332 thousand hectares of real estate, 220 kilometres of warm, tropical white beaches, and reefs with a diversity of fish second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Just in case you’re not hooked yet, there are fishing traps that date back 700 years, three lake systems, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forest, Africa’s largest estuarine system, 526 bird species, and 25 000-year-old vegetated coastal dunes… I am out of breath. And I haven’t even gotten to the Big Five, whales, coelacanths or turtles.

My other bias concerns the Nissan Patrol. I could throw all that stuff about power, torque and approach-and-departure angles into the pot, but that’s never the full story. What I do know is that I could hop into this 4×4 straight off the dealer floor, and meander off to Cairo without a hitch; although, in this case, I just got into the Patrol at OR Tambo and took a 30-second look around before hitting the long road for St Lucia. It’s that simple, and it’s another reason not to have a steering
wheel festooned with switches and knobs.

Yes, the new Patrol has moved with the times, but the toughness, reliability and go-anywhere ability of that first Patrol (the 4W60, launched in 1952) still holds true. In any event, having found the major controls, I had a good 600 kilometres to get more familiar with the Patrol before I reached my first overnight stop at the Sugarloaf Caravan Park in St Lucia.

I stopped in St Lucia for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was towing a small, but tough, Skipper tent trailer (which made for quite a strange combo: the Patrol is capable of towing 2.7 tons; the Skipper weighs all of 350kg). Secondly, the Skipper came along so that I could stay at budget campsites − which meant the Sugarloaf Caravan Park, rather than expensive chalets and lodges.

Thirdly, I needed supplies and a bottle of Scotch from the well-stocked local Spar. And, lastly, I needed to catch up with my friend Lindy Duffield, who is the marketing manager of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. I always meet Lindy at the Vida e Caffè in the Georgiou Centre in town (it’s useful that the Digi Travel camera shop is right next door). Lindy could organise a convention for the ADHD World Federation at the drop of a hat; and, although I am more difficult to organise, she had accomplished her usual miracles. She’d put together both a full itinerary for me and a survival bag containing a coffee plunger, a large packet of filter coffee, a warm blanket and a pillow.

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